Single-use Plastic: Where are we heading?

On 10th December 2021, Malaysia’s Minister of Environment and Water, Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man launched an initiative effort to address plastic pollution in Malaysia, named Malaysia Plastics Sustainability Roadmap 2021-2030. The framework is to call the action towards Zero Single-Use Plastic endorsed by the Cabinet back in 2018.

What does it mean by single-use plastics? Single-use plastics are goods made primarily by petrochemicals and designed to be disposed of right after use, commonly produced for packaging such as plastic bags, bottles, straws, and more. The problem with single-use plastic is that even though it is decomposable, but it takes an exceedingly long time to decompose under normal conditions.

Based on data produced in the report from UNEP on Single-Use Plastic Sustainability, in 2014, Asia had produced the most single-use plastics with 38% from the whole globe. China was notified as the nation to contribute the biggest number from the percentage in the Asia region, followed by Indonesia. According to the data as well, polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) were the two most common polymers used in single-use plastics’ production found among the waste. These two materials are used to manufacture packaging products specifically for the food and beverage industry as such plastic bags.

More nations had come to conclude on banning the usage of single-use plastics from the countries, as most recently announced by the France government. However, some exemptions for a certain type of packaging were made due to the lack of alternative materials invented to replace plastics. There is no denying that plastics play a key role in keeping the freshness of most products, especially for products with a short shelf-life like fruits and vegetables. Plastic packaging can prolong the shelf-life of the product with a significant amount of time for it to be transported around the regions and sold to the end-user.

Keeping the waste of the packaging in a manner way is much as important as keeping the best quality of the products itself. Data in 2015 resembles that only 2% out of 14% of recycled waste had been effectively recycled, while the number of wastes that were lost during the recycling process doubled the number. In this respect, the government must imply a very well-strategized plan to deal with the issue of pollution caused by the usage of plastics. As been suggested by UNEP (2018) in their report, they had listed a 10-step roadmap for governments based on the experiences of 60 countries around the globe, which include using revenues collected from taxes or levies on single-use plastics to maximize the public good.

The responsibility of dealing with the waste from single-use plastics is not to be placed on a single hand since it is an issue that involves the whole level of organization. The government, as the main controller of a nation, must encourage the movement towards a healthier world by providing all the necessary resources for data gathering, research, innovation, awareness campaign, and incentives for this transition to take place as it supposes. Regulating new enforcement alone without a clear and smart action plan to cover up the outcome of removing single-use plastic from a community is a big ask to ask.